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The Home Literacy Environment: A Qualitative Investigation of School-Aged Children


As children become independent readers, they are expected to read, write, speak, and listen with increasing skill and complexity throughout the school years. Literacy is both an independent set of skills and what is used to access classroom content. Yet, less than half of California children in upper elementary grades are meeting or exceeding English language arts standards. In early childhood, the home literacy environment (HLE), generally defined as the interactions between parents and children concerning language and literacy development and the availability of literacy materials in the home, has been shown to be a reliable predictor of student achievement in literacy and an effective area for interventions. However, there is very little research into the HLE of school-aged children and a lack of a coherent definition of the construct for this age group. To gain a better understanding of the HLE for older children, and to develop better questions about how the HLE may impact contemporary child outcomes, an exploratory approach to researching the HLE in middle childhood was necessary. This study explored, through semi-structured interviews and participant observation, the language and literacy activities and practices parents and children (in third to fifth grade) engaged in with each other and on their own outside of school. Interview findings showed ten components that made up the HLE of upper-elementary school-aged children: Homework or School Support; Child Non-School Literacy Behavior; Parent Literacy Behavior; Sibling Literacy Behavior; Family Home Literacy Activities; Family Literacy Outings; Technology; Foreign Language; Parent Beliefs; Child Characteristics. Observations confirmed these findings, while also highlighting the necessity to consider more than the number of books in the home when considering children’s access to text in the home. Overall, this study found that in creating an accurate and informative definition of the HLE construct for this age group to serve as a basis for continued and further research, as well as educational practice, a broader and more inclusive view of family practices and home environments must be considered. The HLE construct must be informative for use by families and education practitioners, and encourage culturally responsive research and classroom environments.

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